“Jesus Tomb” Controversy Erupts—Again
Simcha Jacobovici, Director/Author1. In a statement put out by Eric Meyers and Jodi Magness, also signed by 13 other scholars who attended the conference, the authors write that “the media have presented the views of Simcha Jacobovici…who claims that his identification has been vindicated by the conference papers”. As evidence for my incredible abilities to control the media, various bloggers have pointed to what BAR has put on its website—next to my picture—as “the vindication statement.” I hate to cloud the issue with the facts, but I have issued no press release whatsoever. Unlike Meyers and Magness, I have circulated no “statement” and have collected no signatures. The so called vindication statement (with which I have no problems) is a press release issued by the Canadian broadcaster of my film, Vision Television, and to the best of my knowledge it has been picked up by no media whatsoever. The only media reports that I have seen have been in the Israeli press, on TIME Magazine’s website and on CNN. All these reports were not based on any press release but were produced by people who are on location. For example, the Jerusalem Post report was written by David Horovitz, the Editor of the Post, who attended the conference on several occasions, and the TIME report was written by Tim McGirk who is their Jerusalem Bureau Chief. The Meyers/Magness statement is not only erroneous, but it is consistent with the ad hominem approach of these people who call themselves serious scholars.
2. Since the airing of my film “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” and the publication of my book “The Jesus Family Tomb” in the spring of 2007, a group of shoot from the hip scholars have led the world to believe that there is absolutely no substance to my investigation and that no scholar could entertain any of my hypotheses seriously. So called scholars have called my work “archaeo-porn” and have accused me of “pimping the Bible.” Some of these “scholars” are signatories to the Meyers/Magness statement. In these people’s minds, attacking me personally is a “scholarly” activity. They accuse me of seeking headlines and purposely deceiving people in order to enrich myself. In light of this, of course I’ll shout—and continue to feel—“vindicated” by the conference. Rather than laugh at my work, the Princeton Theological Seminary convened an international conference attended by over 50 of the world’s top scholars. What was the final resolution passed by the conference? Did they all grab their sides and laugh? Quite the contrary. Professor Dino Politis proposed a formal resolution to re-investigate the east Talpiot tomb and the unexcavated tomb nearby. The resolution was seconded and passed unanimously. All the signatories of the Meyers/Magness statement were there and none of them objected. So much for there is no need for further investigation of the issues raised in my film and book. By the way, I have never claimed that the identification of the Talpiot tomb as the Jesus family tomb is a closed case. What I have said in the past, and continue to say now, is that all the evidence—when considered dispassionately—points in that direction.
3. The Meyers/Magness statement says “statistical analysis of the names engraved on the ossuaries leaves no doubt that the probability of the Talpiot tomb belonging to Jesus’ family is virtually nil.” Either the people who produced that statement attended a different conference, or they have to brush up on their statistics. The fact is that at the statistical panel, Professor Andrey Feuerverger who appears in my film, made the dramatic announcement that his paper has been peer reviewed and accepted by one of the world’s leading statistical journals. The conference organizers also invited Professor Camil Fuchs, the only peer reviewer who was critical of Professor Feuerverger’s statistical model, to make a presentation. Professor Fuchs stated that he prefers a “Bayesian” model used by Professors Kilty and Elliott. According to that model, there is a 48% probability that the east Talpiot site is the Jesus family tomb. In other words, it’s approximately 50/50 that the burial boxes of Jesus, his mother Mary and his brother Yose have been found. This is hardly a “nil” probability.
4. The Meyers/Magness statement says that testimony from scholars at the conference have “eliminated” any possibility that the tenth and missing ossuary from the Talpiot tomb is the James ossuary. Again, they must have been outside the conference hall when Dr. Aryeh Shimron, the geologist in attendance, was surprised to hear that the Talpiot ossuaries had been found embedded in silt. At that point, he publicly announced “if that’s the case, then there is no question that this tomb has a distinct chemical signature”. In other words, instead of signing internet statements, scholars should rush to the lab and check a wide enough database of ossuary patinas to determine whether the patina from the James ossuary corresponds to the patina of the Talpiot tomb. The identification of the James ossuary with the missing Talpiot ossuary has not been “eliminated.” Quite the contrary, the hypothesis first presented in our film and book has been “vindicated” as a working hypothesis, and the science has just begun.
5. I don’t want to go through all the other misrepresentations at this point. Rather, I want to end my comment on Meyers and Magness’ personal attack on the memory of the late Joseph Gat, who was the excavator responsible for the Talpiot tomb. It’s one thing personally attacking me and “Hollywood” producer James Cameron. It’s quite another attacking an individual who excavated some 400 sites in his distinguished 27 year career with the Israel Antiquities Authority. Meyer and Magness state “Joseph Gat lacked the expertise to read the inscriptions.” How low can you go? The fact is that the tomb was found in 1980 and the inscriptions were deciphered in 1982. Joseph Gat passed away in 1992. He had a decade to ponder the implication of the inscriptions. According to his widow, Gat believed that the Talpiot tomb was, indeed, the Jesus family tomb, and that he took that idea with him to the grave because as a Holocaust survivor he feared a worldwide wave of anti-Semitism if his opinions became public. By suggesting that Gat could not have believed that the Talpiot tomb belonged to Jesus and his family, the Meyers/Magness signatories are also suggesting that his widow retroactively made up opinions that he could not have held. Again, how low can you go? Recently, Dr. Steve Pfann, one of the signatories of the Meyers/Magness statement, apologized to Gat’s widow on his website. But the references to Gat have not been changed and I’ve seen no apologies from Meyers, Magness or any of the other signatories.
To further illustrate how unscholarly the “naysayers” have become, I need only point to the behaviour of Professor Amos Kloner—another signatory to the statement—at the conference. During the opening session, Professor Kloner shouted down Professor James Charlesworth from the audience. I was sitting behind Professor Kloner and heard his colleagues advise him that screaming at Professor Charlesworth would not do his reputation any good. Subsequently, Professor Kloner decided to direct his invective at me. Filmmakers are fair game. At one point, Professor Kloner jumped on the stage and, as reported by the Jerusalem Post, shouted “liar” at me, as I attempted to ask a question from the audience. Later he thought better of it and again jumped up on the stage and publicly apologized. But after Ruth Gat’s statement, he verbally and physically attacked me at the closing reception in front of television cameras as they rolled. I said nothing to him, but I watched in shock as his wife wrestled with him so as to prevent any further physical assault. Is this scholarship? Interestingly, Professor Kloner’s repeated outbursts did not make it into the Meyers/Magness statement. Quite the contrary, he is a proud signatory. In the statement, it’s not Professor Kloner that is criticized, but the late Joseph Gat and his widow. Shame on the statement and shame on the signatories.
In conclusion, I’m delighted with what happened at the conference. The Talpiot tomb is back on the scientific agenda and no amount of personal attacks against me or anyone else are going to change that.
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